VERMILLION, S.D. - There were eight lead changes in the first 59 minutes and 46 seconds of a wild Missouri Valley Conference showdown between Youngstown State and South Dakota.
The Penguins made sure there were nine.
Youngstown State freshman tailback Martin Ruiz scored a 3-yard touchdown run with 14 seconds left as the Penguins rallied for a 38-34 victory over South Dakota on Saturday afternoon at the DakotaDome.
The Penguins (8-1, 5-0 Missouri Valley Conference) have won their first five league games since joining the MVC in 1997.
The Coyotes (4-5, 3-3) gave YSU fits all day. USD scored 17 points off three Penguin fumbles and senior quarterback Kurt Hess was sacked a career-high four times.
But in the end, Hess and the offense had one last drive in them against the nation's fifth-best defense.
After trailing the entire third quarter, the Penguins moved in front 31-27 on a 42-yard run by Jody Webb with 11:14 left as they overcame a 27-19 deficit.
Nine minutes later, South Dakota took back the lead when Jordan Roberts ran up the middle for an 11-yard score. Roberts' burst capped a seven-play, 66-yard drive, but left 2:14 on the clock.
The Penguins used just less than two minutes of that time. With 2:07 left, the Penguins took over at their own 26. On first down, Hess got the drive underway with an 18-yard pass to Christian Bryan.
After an incompletion, Hess found Carson Sharbaugh, who stretched the ball forward to pick up another first down. Andre Stubbs picked up 3 yards on a rush around the left side and was hit late out of bounds, giving the Penguins a first down at the USD 28-yard line. After Hess and Webb runs, Webb had just enough on a third-and-1 play for first down at the 18-yard line.
With 27 seconds, Hess hit Bryan on a 15-yard gain to the USD 3. After a spike to stop the clock on first down, Martin Ruiz scored the game-winner from 3 yards out with 17 seconds left.
For the game, Hess was 22 of 26 for 283 yards and two touchdowns and had one rushing score. Ruiz had 131 yards on 23 rushes and two scores, while Webb had 64 yards on just five carries. YSU finished with 234 yards rushing in the contest.
The first half was a frustrating one for the Penguins, who committed two turnovers, could not convert two point-after attempts and were stopped on a fourth-and-short play inside the USD 25-yard line. The two turnovers - both fumbles - led to 10 Coyotes points.
YSU took its initial drive of the contest to the South Dakota 22-yard line, but on fourth-and-1, the Coyotes stopped the Penguins for a 3-yard loss.
USD opened the game's scoring when Miles Bergner kicked a 39-yard field goal, capping a 12-play, 54-yard drive. However, the Penguins answered back quickly when Hess found a wide-open Webb for a 40-yard touchdown pass with 1:39 left in the opening frame.
Both teams combined for 29 points in a wild second quarter.
On the first play of the quarter, Stubbs fumbled and South Dakota recovered at the Penguins' 45-yard line. Five plays later, Earl scored on a 17-yard run to put USD ahead 10-7.
Hess called his own number on a designed quarterback draw to put the Penguins back in front on their next drive. On third-and-goal from the USD 4-yard line, Hess found paydirt to give the Penguins a 13-10 lead after the point-after-conversion failed.
It took the Coyotes just three plays and 53 seconds to answer. Earl connected on a 9-yard toss to Kayl Barkley with 8:03 left in the quarter to give USD a 17-13 lead.
YSU regained the lead when Ruiz scored on a 6-yard run with 5:13 left in the second period. However, the PAT failed as the Penguins led just 19-17.
USD took advantage of a Hess fumble to gain a one-point advantage just before halftime. USD recovered the ball at the YSU 23, but the defense held. Bergner's 40-yard field goal at the 1:20 mark gave the Coyotes a 20-19 lead at intermission.
In the first half, Hess was 12-of-14 for 190 yards and a score. The Penguins had 301 total offensive yards on 38 plays. USD entered the game allowing 295 yards per contest, fifth-best in the FCS.
The Penguins play at UNI next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 5:05 p.m.